Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bye Joy!

Today was my last day with Joy Girls. Lord I’m going to miss those girlies. I gave them their final test today. I think it was tough for many of them simply because they are unaccustomed to taking a large test like that in one sitting, but they all were so good about it and I have begun grading them tonight and the results are quite good.
Still, it made me realize that come January I want to quiz them more often so that tests of this nature are not such a huge to-do.

Durkasi being, well, beautiful
I gave them each the cliff bar (you know those energy bar things) a piece of clothing that I hand picked for them, and a note as a Christmas gift. They were quiet toward me saying a quick, “Thank you madam” or “thank you sister” but I could hear them squealing with joy the second they turned around.
Loveness and Happy flaunting their new attire :)

Tonight after dinner we prayed for them. We prayed for their safety and happiness over Christmas break and that they remember the solace they have found in God through New Life.
It was a beautiful day. I was sad to feel like it was the end of something lovely, but so glad to know it was a “see you later” rather than goodbye.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pray Day

It's pray day at New Life Foundation. I snuck away for a moment to upload this beautiful shot I captured. This is one of my Joy Girls (Love) and Pedia, a baby at Zoe Babies. Love was praying over Pedia at this moment.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Football by Moonlight

Last night I felt like a roughly painted bodies in one of those African murals that hangs above the mantel. I was playing soccer with Pri, Charity, Theo (our house boy who is like a big brother to me) and some of the kids from the neighborhood. We began around five when this guy who we have befriended, Kundaeli, came calling our names over the property walls.
“Princely! Alyssa!”
“Yeah?” Princely peeked through the peephole. “Oh, Kunda – karibu kaka.”
Kunda asked that we come out instead, so we went with Charity and made our way across the road to a plot of grass that we have come to claim as our football field on the other side. We began by playing a version of monkey in the middle. Theo came running over from tending to the goats and we expanded the game. As more and more people joined “njo – una taka kucheza?” We expanded into a full on game. Kunda is the best player so he was on a team with a bunch of youngsters and Theo, Charity, Princely and I made up Pastor’s Team.
I wore sneakers. Charity wore rain boots. Princely wore no-lace converse. Kunda wore flip-flops (slippers as they’re called here). Theo was barefoot. The goal posts were two pairs of large rocks we had found. The boundary to the left was where the ground got thorny and the boundary to the right was where the cows grazed. Kilimanjaro was in clear view right behind the goal we were shooting on. I watched as the snow turned from tinted blue in the late afternoon, to pink and purple as the sun set in the evening, to a mere outline against the blackened sky. We all ran and sweated and coached and cheered until we could no longer see the ball at our own feet.
“Kesho.” We agreed. We’ll pick up tomorrow. I was sweating like crazy but felt cool and fresh. On the walk back home, we talked strategy for the next game, agreeing that we’d be sure to get Donati on our team tomorrow and play Theo as a forward.

When so many of my experiences here are so different from the picture we assume is Africa, it is refreshing to sometimes enjoy the land in the most base way possible – with a ball and a handful of friends. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Today was dynamic. I woke up entirely inspired to go into town on my own and make some headway on Operation Di*rt. I rose at 7 and finished writing the final examination for my Joy Girls while I waited for Mama to wake up so I could tell her I was going to town. When she woke, she had news of her own. She has been back and forth to the hospital the past few days, trying to identify the source of the weakness she has been feeling recently. The doctors identified the problem and have advised that she undergo surgery on Monday. She said there are a few things she wants to take care of before that, and one of them is to thoroughly clean the house.
It was about 4pm and I was deep cleaning the kitchen when I was absolutely overwhelmed with a feeling of entrapment. I was not bothered that my plans had not worked out, rather I was bothered by the fact that I never even had the courage to tell Mama of those plans in the morning, and also that by the afternoon, I was the only one still cleaning. Everyone else was outside talking to the some Fountain of Hope New Life students who were on a retreat at the house because they were having issues getting along.
I wanted to go out and join them, given that the topic was communication, which is what I teach them anyway, but it was all in Swahili. Instead, I channeled my frustration at the family and grew angry with them for abandoning cleaning when I had other plans and was still cleaning. (I was consciously aware of the immaturity of this frustration. The only problem really was I lacked the guts to tell them I wanted to leave).
Finally I decided to go outside and try to listen in Swahili and see what I could gather. I asked one student what Mama Shoo had said that made everyone laugh while she was lecturing to them, and he explained it to me. A few other students saw this interaction, and then one approached me later. His name was Samwel and we ended up talking about the instruments he played and he and his friend Nash offered to teach me. Then a boy named Victor saw this conversation and stopped me as I was washing to ask me if I ever hand wash clothes in America. He proceeded to help me wring the bed sheets as we spoke. Then, another student, Willgod asked me about basketball later which led to a wonderful chat with he and four of his friends about basketball, planets, Christmas vacations, computers software, you name it.
These interactions totally turned my day around. I didn’t need to go to town: I moved but a couple yards to be with them and suddenly all feelings of entrapment had dissipated. The reason it disappeared? I had a chance to do a little analysis while we were speaking (which was what I wanted to do in town). Only boys approached me, the girls were far shyer. I tried approaching them, but the conversation was extremely awkward. It was a start, but I have yet to find a way for the Fountain of Hope girls to feel comfortable with me. Boys are easy – you just talk about sports and they know you’re cool.
Another thing I noticed is how smart and sometimes socially immature they are. When I go home for a few weeks in December I think I want to remap their upcoming communications lesson plans to give them some more challenging material, but focus for a longer time on assertive communication because they don’t seem to grasp it 100% yet (which is completely understandable – a two hour seminar isn’t going to completely mature your personality).
Anyway, the kids added a third dynamic to my day – a wonderful important dynamic that is a small milestone, but a milestone nonetheless, in our growing relationship.

The Sweetest Goodbye

“Bye Princely!! Bye Princely!!” the kids in the New Life yard shouted at us as we began for home.
I turned around and addressed them with a subtle yet unnecessarily cutting tone, “bye!”
Princely looked at me a sadly, gently, and just barely accusingly. “They say it for you, you know. They’re saying goodbye to me, but it’s for you. They just don’t remember your name.”
I contemplated the idea, not sure if I believed him. It’s true, I had never taught the kids who were in the yard at that point. They were grade 3 and 4, and I had worked mostly with grades 1 and 2, Joy, secondary school and high school. But didn’t they know how badly I wanted to know them?? Suddenly from behind me I heard, “Your name, Madame?”
I turned to see a Grade 4 student smiling at us, shielding the setting sun from his eyes. Without meaning to I beamed. “ALYSSA!” I shouted back.
“Oh. Okay. Good night!”
Princely and I laughed in wordless commendation of accurate thinking. The bounce in my step lasted until we reached home forty minutes later.

Something Beautiful


Something beautiful is beginning to happen.
I watched this Ted Talk about three weeks ago and knew I wanted to post about the reaction it stirred in me. I am glad I waited. Because now a beautiful thing is beginning to happen where I am beginning to experience this African pride for myself.
When I first saw this video, I understood that Africa is misunderstood, that's what everyone tells me. But now I'm really beginning to gain my own understanding of why and how, whereby I am gaining a proper understanding of one of the many beautiful, prosperous, multi-tiered African cultures for myself.
I will not distract from the video - I want you to watch it. Watch it, digest it, and soon I will post about my developing American-African identity.

Friday, November 23, 2012

KCB Conference

Today Princely and I attended a conference hosted by KCB Bank (the biggest banking network in Tanzania and Kenya) as the Uzima representative. The conference was held for small businesses to promote positive business management for small start-ups. It began at 8 AM, but we went to the devotion at New Life first so we didn’t get there until 9 (excellent devotion this morning. It included the staff and the high school students. Oh God it was really beautiful. I had even heard the sermon two times before, but it really touched me in a different way this morning). No worries, the conference didn’t actually start until about 10 AM.
I thought it might be a morning event, but it went through until 5 in the evening. It was a great experience though. The marketing manager for KCB Tanzania approached us and asked about Uzima. She ended up setting us up to speak to this man named Uforo who is whom we will contact if we want KCB to sponsor an Uzima event. This is huge for us, so celebrate overseas please!!
We were served tea, lunch, and evening tea to break up the talks.
 The first talk provided general information about KCB, the second a recommendation about how to use the bank, and the third a word about accounting. Then we had testimonies of thanks (something that America should really adopt. It’s so uplifting for both the speaker and the audience to hear how the audience appreciates the presentation).
The speakers were long winded yet informative and they could almost always answer the questions we posed at the end.

The conference ended with us all receiving a certificate for our attendance. I learned some things at the conference, but most importantly I made a valuable connection and now have an incentive to apply the packages offered by KCB to Uzima.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Culture Blurb: Hit The Road

So we drive on the other side of the road here, big deal. There are far more challenging adjustments that make driving in Tanzania an experience.

1.     Dirt roads: don’t roll down your windows in the middle of the day. Somehow the dust seems to not rise as high in the mornings and evenings, but in midday, just keep them up until you get to the main road.
2.     Bump, Bump Bump: there are two kinds of bumps on TZ roads, the on purpose bumps and the whoa! What was that bump.
a.     On Purpose
                  On tar roads, there are speed bumps everywhere. There are some that are wide and long, but not particularly high, some that are three little bumps right in a row, and then some that are quick, high, and easy to miss until the bottom of your engine is scraping against them. They were input after the tar roads were built and there was a rapid increase in accidents because people were speeding down the roads without caution. Now, drivers must be very conscious on these roads, especially if their car sits low to the ground like ours does.
b.     Whoa! What was that?
These bumps are most commonly found on dirt roads, but this generalization is far from exclusive. The whoa! What was that? Is the bump that you could swear didn’t look that bad, or maybe it didn’t even appear until the tires dipped. Once it hits however, there’s no illusion. You know it’s really there. How to avoid them? Keep a loose grip on the steering wheel (don’t be shy about zig zagging across the whole road) and just take it slow
3.     Overtaking: You know how in America you don’t really pass other cars unless you’re really in a hurry, or you’re on the highway? Yep, not true here. There are trucks that drive 5 kilometers an hour and cars that race at 90 – overtaking is a necessary part of driving. All roads are single lanes, so the only way to do it is to move into the lane of oncoming traffic to pass the slow poke. Some drivers are exceedingly liberal overtakers and can cause panic in the lane of oncoming traffic. Often times, public transportation systems are culprits of liberal overtaking. They also tend to disregard the rules of the road in general…
4.     Piki Pikis: motorcycles here are a very common mode of transportation, especially within a city. They are cheaper than a taxi, faster than walking, and will stop wherever you want unlike dala dalas. Actually on one of my first days here, I took a quick piki piki tour around the city. It was my first time on a motorcycle, it was fun! (Don’t worry mom and dad – completely safe. We knew the driver and he went really slowly) But you’re right to worry - piki piki drivers can be crazy. They cut, weave, drive on sidewalks. They’re like snowboarders from hell on a ski-only mountain. They cause loads of accidents, loads of deaths, and are in general something to steer clear of.
5.     No Street Lights: Driving at night is dark. At first I thought that the other cars were keeping their brights on at night. Then one night Princely pointed out that the glare was in fact probably due to the lack of street lights – the utter blackness besides the headlights. It’s not something I noticed, but it makes a huge difference.
6.     Wipe or blink: Driving on the left side of the road is easy to adjust to, but it has taken me longer to grow used to the blinkers. They are on the outside of the steering wheel instead of the inside. Almost every time I intend to blink, the windshield wipers start dancing.
I don’t drive often here in Tanzania, but when I do it’s always bittersweet. It’s so much more efficient, but there are many adjustments to be made. The one that is most challenging for me is on purpose bump.  Still, I’m getting better and it’s encouraging, empowering even.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Yesterday I learned how to hand wash. We were taking the day off of work to go to a funeral, but Mama and Baba left very early in the morning and I had no means of getting there. Instead, I spent the day working from home and cleaning the house because with two working parents and no house girl, things can get a little behind sometimes. I had some clothes that needed washing, so I learned how to hand wash. Mama Mkubwa, the woman who I wrote about a while back, the one with the distinct motherly charm, was helping in the garden that day and she showed me how. You fill a bucket with water and pour some detergent in and swash it around with your hands. Then you put the same colors in together (brights, lights, darks) and take the cloth in both hands and rub each spot against the palm of your left hand, right below your thumb. You do this for every part of the shirt or pants until they are clean, then you put them in a rinse bin with fabric softener for two to three minutes, and hang them out to dry.
It was tough work – it took me almost two and a half hours and I was sweaty when I finished. I didn’t realize until the next morning that the pressure against the corners of my finger nails made the nails cut into my fingers until they were all bleeding. Oddly, however I enjoyed it. It was soothing. The sound of the water lapping against the sides of the bucket was rhythmic and the cool shock of it sometimes splashing me was refreshing in the most base of ways. It felt good to know I had done it by myself – no help from a machine and that I knew how. The next morning I woke up early and proudly ironed the clothes to complete the process.

That same day, Princely told me that Mama Mkubwa had approached him about a month ago asking if he had any extra clothes because she knew of some teenagers in desperate need. I am leaving for home in just over a half month, so I was so glad that he turned her to me. I took Mama into my room and we sorted through my clothes and she took about half of them. I am going to give her some more on Monday when I go to Joy Girls because she will be at Zoe Babies, which is right next-door. It felt so wonderful – I gave her clothes and materials for the girls and then a new toothbrush and shampoo and body wash for her. It made her day.
Just as excited as she was to receive the gifts, she was sad at the mention of me leaving. She said that it’s like when a baby is adopted from Zoe, you’re so glad that they’ll have a family but it’s impossible to watch them go. This made my day. Those kids at Zoe are like her children, and to think that she associated me with them broke my heart in the happiest of ways. She said she would feel like something is missing when she comes to the Shoo home in December and I’m not there, and that visitors shouldn’t be allowed to stay for more than a month so that you don’t grow to love them.

I’m going to miss this place. Thank God I’m coming back…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching Pics

Here are some photos I found of Princely and I teaching at Hope one day. These are the form 1 students. They are so bright. This was the first lesson we had with them and you can see that they are very interactive and attentive even on the first day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Humpty Dumpty

So I told you all how last weekend Princely and I went to Machame village. We actually went again yesterday and saw some GREAT football matches…all upsets except for Arsenal who beat their rival Tottham (woohoo!!). Via Princely, I’m becoming quite the European football fan. We were the only people there, but it was really exciting and we got revved up with the staff. We were up in the village for a family funeral and the two of us slipped down to Protea, a small hotel in the area, afterward to watch the games.
Anyway, point of the story is I never reported back with evidence from our visit from last time. Well, we were working on our computers and the power went out about twenty minutes after our arrival, so our writing time was brief (instead we spent a majority of the time exploring one of the many beautiful rivers that flows from the peak of Kilimanjaro through Machame villages). In the time that we did have, we opened with a prompt: write for 15 minutes. Begin with a line from a nursery rhyme.
This is what I stirred up. I enjoyed the exercise thoroughly, though I felt my outcome was a bit too flowery and forced. The exercise reminded me of my time at Columbia a few summers ago, I completed prompts like this every morning in my time there. They always help me to get the creative juices flowing…

Humpty dumpty sat on the wall.
“Oh no. God, please no. Not tonight”
Humpty dumpty had a great fall…
“Please! Listen, see I’m using the magic word!!!”

Despite her desperate pleading the image grew like a balloon in her mind. The giant egg we call Humpty was a cream color wearing leg-o blue pants and a bright red belt. His legs were like soggy little French fries wobbling and occasionally knocking against the wall. His smile was crooked, like it was drawn on his face with the unsure fist of a five-year-old.
“I think I might barf.”
Slowly, the crooked pencil smile began to morph. It grew almost straight, almost white teeth, light pink thin lips and a tongue that clicked against the roof of this new mouth as Humpty sang. But this wasn’t Humpty, anymore. Not quite anyway. The face was a little more shapely, not petite and angular like hers but somewhere in between. Crimson hair was sprouting fast, fast from the apex of this creature’s head and it stopped singing for a moment to itch its scalp in confusion.

The girl tried to open her eyes. She commanded her muscles to tug from the inside but they were sleeping with her limbs. She instructed her mouth to scream, her toes to wiggle, her belly to itch, anything to force herself awake from this nightmare. Instead, her mind’s eye held reign. It continued to elaborate upon the features of this creature it had birthed. It developed blue eyes and even a freckled nose, though it looked quite out of place on the egg-like figure. The soggy French fries became boneless arms that served no new function.

 To be continued....

Friday, November 16, 2012

Post-Bump Acceleration

Today I taught Msufini again with Princely as my translator. The first half of the lesson was rough, but the second half was the best I’ve had with them.
The lesson itself was on the Power of Persuasion. I broke the lesson into two parts: attentive listening and simplicity (two key things to keep in mind when presenting a persuasive argument). So I spoke to the students about this and in the first five minutes, I noticed eight kids in the back of the class sleeping. Now, this is the class with 200 students so I shouldn’t have been discouraged, but I felt disrespected. It was an optional class, so I did not understand the logic behind showing up just to sleep right under my nose. I gave the whole lesson, but I received minimal feedback from the class and was unsure if any of my words were sinking in.
After the lecture, I opened up an activity. I began by calling out the kids who were asleep by telling them they should probably wake up and stretch out because they would have to get up and move in a minute. We began the activity, a full group debate activity, and only a few students were interested until I turned the topic to football. Then they were ALL participating saying this and that, ooing and awing at the arguments and rebuttals being shot.
I closed on this lesson and answered a fantastic student question at the end. I related my answer to the soccer players we were debating about and could feel the students clinging to my words.
Today I learned the importance of my own lesson: in order to persuade, you must read your audience. My mission today was to persuade my large and rather unenthusiastic class to listen to my lesson. As I begin to understand my audience’s personality and desires, status and points of reference, I am able to communicate with them more effectively and persuade them to listen to my teachings.
Today the two most effective methods of teaching were the incorporation of the Bible and football (soccer).  I’ll keep this in mind as I plan my lesson for next week.

Grade 1

Meet my Grade 1 students. Aren’t they sweet? These are some of the students I teach every Wednesday morning. This Wednesday I taught them about the importance of attentive listening and then we spent the second half of class working on a trivia activity. Next week, I think we will continue to learn about attentive listening and then do a little geography. The class is 80 minutes, which can be a long time for such youngsters, so I usually try to split it into two parts.

High School Here I Come!

Yesterday I saw Henlicky (the high school teacher for whom I taught Black History last Wednesday) in the hallway of administration. He stopped me to chat about his history class and asked me to come teach again next Wednesday. Yay! I am excited first of all because I loved teaching his class the first time – it is an intimate setting and a challenging and different topic from that which I usually teach. I am also excited because one of the girls from the class showed interest in giving me Swahili lessons in our free time. This concept excited me, but I did not remember her name so I did not know how to contact her. When I see her next Wednesday I’ll be sure to inquire about her offer.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ain't nothing like a child

Meet my new friend

Pastors' Wives Conference

Okay so I'm two weeks late on this one...could be worse right?
The Saturday before last, Uzima hosted a conference for pastors' wives. There is a large community of married pastors in the area so we had a wonderful turn out. Mama and I co-taught a whole-day seminar for them. We spoke about beauty: I spoke about outer beauty and Mama then came in and supplemented my lecture with one about inner beauty. 

Often times women are told that inner beauty is what matters. This is true, but it is also true that our outer beauty can feed confidence to express beauty from within. This was what I spoke about to the pastors. I focused on three main avenues to physical beauty: nutrition, hygiene, and exercise. I began with nutrition by teaching them about the food groups and the nutrients that foods from each group tend to give you, highlighting how it is important to maintain a well-rounded diet. I also spoke about hygienic cooking and the science behind boiling water, peeling vegetables, and washing our hands before and after cooking.

Next I spoke about hygiene. This was the main topic because the need for hygiene education was greatest. After the presentation, I was told that the best part was that my teaching was relevant to their needs and lifestyles. For example, when talking about the specifics of bathing, I emphasized that it is important to use body soap instead of the soap that we use to wash clothes. The women also liked how I put a science-y edge on everything I taught. Instead of just telling them what to do, I explained why scientifically it helps your body thrive. For example washing your face at night does not only help you feel clean before bed, it clears the dirt and bacteria from your pores so that your face can breath and rejuvenate overnight.  
Many of the women took notes the whole time, which was both flattering and motivating
The final part of my presentation was on exercise. This was the curveball. Initially I planned to only speak about the importance of incorporating convenient exercise into your day. That is how exercise usually occurs here. People exercise by walking to work or cleaning the house. They stay fit by being active in a natural way. These women however wanted to learn muscle strengthening exercises and aerobics. Not only that but they wanted ones that they could perform in a culturally appropriate manner, this meant in their dresses. This is how the final thirty minutes of the seminar turned into Aerobics 101. I had them lunging around the lawn and doing arm reaches  to stretch their torsos. They LOVED it. 
We ended with a question and answer session that lasted for another 45 minutes. They had some wonderful questions, and thankfully they were all ones that I felt comfortable answering.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my part of the seminar and was glad to find that it was highly effective. After the seminar ended, Princely, Charity and I played football and had a jam session with the New Life students who came to play music during the breaks. We sang gospel songs til it got dark and the sky opened. We rushed all the instruments inside before they could get damaged from the rain and made popcorn as a snack for the students before they went home. 
One of my beautiful listeners

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


 “Also, there are women all around.”    
I half-smile like I am hiding some secret. He wouldn’t guess that secret is my fear.
“Start with the cooks who work here.”
I turn and walk into the office and the thought hovers somewhere between a prayer and an omen, crap, he’s right. Now I have no excuse.

You see this project of mine, it sounds wonderful in theory and it will be wonderful in actuality, but it’s scary as hell. How does one walk up to a woman she doesn’t even know and expect to receive the truth? How does this conversation begin? How is a world of secrets shed to a stranger?

The only correct answer is to start. I think I am scared to start so close to home, though. If I am awkward about these interviews, then I will be seeing these women every day after. This is why I am tempted to start somewhere else. Is it okay to just sit down somewhere and ask someone, tell me about yourself?
I know it varies from person to person, but is that generally acceptable? To start a bit of a conversation and then shake it up with a, “do you, by chance, want to tell me your story?” It makes an impression, that’s for sure.
Will it make them nervous to see me writing? Will they like it? I can start at NakoMatt maybe, that really nice lady from customer service is starting to recognize me. Maybe I can ask her if she wants to sit down after work one day and talk. Just talk.

I must be prepared for rejection. I cannot take it personally.

Something I need to pay attention to, something I must learn to gauge, is whether or not the gratification of talking about themselves is enough for these women. Everyone loves talking about herself. We are narcissistic by nature. However we also are defensive creatures and creatures of bargain. We guard ourselves, unless we believe that sharing swings profit in our favor. For some people, the excuse to talk about themselves accomplishes this. Others drive harder bargains. Some need to build trust first (how do I promise my trustworthiness?) others need to benefit emotionally, receive some kind of healing, receive the promise of happiness. This second option is not me. How do I make them see the benefit of being written about? What is the benefit? It is the memory, it is the food for creation, it is the sharing of ideas that not only is fruitful for the receiver but also for the giver. So the answer is I don’t make people see this, I tell them that is what I perceive, and maybe they will perceive a benefit for themselves as well.
As I learn to gauge this, I will still face rejection, however I will not have to worry so much about being offensive. That is the center of my fear in starting this project. I fear that I will offend. I don’t want these people to think that I view them as specimens. They’re not that at all, and if they are then everyone who enters and exits my life is. Rather, they are people. People who live lives that are highly generalized where I come from, highly misunderstood. By understanding snippets of each of their stories, that is all I will do: understand snippets of stories. I don’t plan to engineer any sweeping philosophies, rather I am intrigued to understand individual stories saturated with drama that I expect to be both similar and different in nature from that which is most common at home.

This brainstorming session isn’t a prelude to this project, rather it is a prelude to this conscious attempt to be proactive with it. I will spend more time exploring independently, but only to a degree that suits both my personal safety and the needs of New Life and Uzima. I will also force myself to practice CONFIDENCE when I have the opportunity to do so. As long as I tread with relative caution and utter kindness, I hope that I will be able to achieve instigation of conversation without being offensive.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Free Day

Today I am not working at all. It is 7am. I am about to do a little morning workout in the yard, shower, then Princely and I are going to Machame for the day. We both miss the inspiration of being around young people with big ideas all the time, so we are going to compensate by having a super creative day today. We are going to Machame village to be inspired by the green ambiance and separately but together, we are going to write. Our ultimate goal is to produce a short screen play and regular play together. We'll see how these experiments turn out!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


“My name is Eugene, what is yours?”
I was sitting in the back corner of the dala dala squished between Eugene and a lady in a red kanga. In the dala dala, everything is squished – the crumpled bills that you fetch from your pocket when your stop is reached, the goats that bleat between bags that press against your calves, sweaty arms and legs and especially hips – they’re all squished.
I contemplated attempting to answer in Swahili, but I chose English.
“My name is Alyssa.”
I had been watching Eugene in my peripheral vision. He was a talkative guy. He entered the bus after me and immediately tapped on the shoulder of the woman in front of him to commence conversation. He then tapped the woman next to her, and the woman next to her. All of them responded to him with polite interest and the conversations did not last more than a minute a piece. His eyes flitted my way three or four times before he introduced himself.
“Shika moo, baba” I said in respect.
That was when our exchange entered the realm of Eng-Swahili.
“Marahaba, Unajua Kiswahili?” He asked if I knew his language.
“Kidogo, kidogo,” I said. He seemed to assume I was being modest until he asked another question and I had no idea how to respond.
“What are you doing here?” He translated.
We spoke about my work and his work tentatively, both aware that a good half of our words were being lost in translation. I interrupted him to shout “Kaka, Mashine. Mil tatu?” to the front of the bus. The boy with his torso out the window of the sliding door, the one who collected the bus fares, turned to me and nodded saying, “aya.” Some heads turned at my American accent and a few passengers chuckled in approval as they realized the white girl knew some Swahili.
As we neared my stop, Eugene began firing a few questions with urgency. He had forgotten to raise some key small-talk points of conversation: my age, the duration of my stay, which state is my home state. Eugene entered rapid-fire mode as we pulled over to drop me.
“New York, Kuminanane, one year!” I riled off. “Kuaheri, baba!”
“Aya, asante Dada” Eugene responded.

That conversation was the most consecutive Swahili I had spoken in a week. It also was lengthier than any of the exchanges Eugene shared with people who spoke his language fluently. We all love to be teachers and learners. It’s beautiful to experience the fruits borne from the desire to learn and teach as we try to bridge gaps of all forms.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Joy, Joy, Joy

I think it is time to update you on my work with Joy. Two Mondays ago, I went to teach the girls with Princely as my translator. For a while I taught while Princely worked on some design templates on his computer, contributing translations every now and again. He was not highly active in our class that Monday, but he was a nice comfort to have.
When his computer began to run low on battery and he asked me if he could leave to go complete his work at Zoe Babies where there was power, there was uproar from the girls. They begged him to stay but I told him it was fine, he should go. Now I always brag about my girls on the blog, so I may not have mentioned that often times it is difficult to convince them to ask me questions in English. They tend to lean on the translator (which is the natural thing to do) and ask him the question in Swahili to be translated to English. But this does not push them to practice their English.
I was nervous for Princely to leave because I was afraid that they would walk away not understanding what I had taught, but instead the girls blossomed. One particularly bright student, Happy, took leadership immediately. She assumed the role of translator when the other girls were having trouble understanding, but they all began speaking much more in English, asking questions and using words and sentence structures that I did not even know they were familiar with. It was such a breakthrough. It has made me confident that the lesson will be fruitful even when I have to go on my own. I am not saying that nothing was lost in translation, but to make up for these few misunderstandings that I am sure occurred, the girls had to really work to communicate. For that reason, the lesson was highly valuable.
This picture is a repost but that is Happy on the left and Lucy on the right

This past Monday was wonderful in a different way. I taught the girls and Princely stayed there the whole time, but with encouragement, they began to ask questions in English. But what really made this Monday unique was that I began to feel so much closer to the girls. I gave them dictionaries I bought a couple weeks ago for them (English to Swahili and Swahili to English) and they were absolutely squealing. This reaction seemed involuntary and they physically could not stop. Princely and I showed them how to use the dictionaries by having them race to translate words. It was something truly magical, I wish I could have recorded it because the moment was so pure and inexplicable, but truly beautiful. I also gave them each one undergarment and one sweater, dress, shirt, or skirt apiece. They all ran to put the clothes in their dormitories after class and were so appreciative.
Sometimes I don’t like charitable giving. It can be an indirect boast. We give to hear how great we are. This very qualm was the reason I felt so full of happiness after giving the girls their gifts. I am not giving and walking away. The gift they were most excited about (the dictionaries) is something that will feed the lessons I teach them. I love them with all my heart and am not giving to them because I want praise or even thanks in return, rather it is because I receive genuine joy from their happiness. Somehow, I felt that they understood this completely.
After class, Princely and I stayed at Zoe Babies until 6 PM and the girls were there too. Usually, Princely and I work in one room while they work and hang outside. This past Monday, whenever I took work breaks, I visited them outside. We sat on the back porch and exchanged songs. When I ran out of English worship songs to sing them, I resorted to Hootie and the Blowfish, a close second to the God-fearing type. Despite the language barrier, they’re growing so comfortable around me and I love them so much that this is the best feeling in the world.